The Bible Bible Textual Integrity

Were The Authors of the New Tes­ta­ment Inspired By God ?

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Chris­t­ian apol­o­gists in recent times try to prop­a­gate the idea that the Bible is the word of God, writ­ten by inspired” scribes. Despite what they would like to believe, many dis­cov­er­ies, how­ev­er, refute this belief. Most of the books of the Bible are not known and is sim­ply attrib­uted to cer­tain authors which, when exam­ined, shows that they could not have writ­ten it.

Richard E. Fried­man apt­ly describes the sit­u­a­tion of Bible author­ship”.

Peo­ple have been read­ing the Bible for near­ly two thou­sand years. They have tak­en it lit­er­al­ly, fig­u­ra­tive­ly, or sym­bol­i­cal­ly. They have regard­ed it as divine­ly dic­tat­ed, revealed, or inspired, or as a human cre­ation. They have acquired more copies of it than of any oth­er book. It is quot­ed (and mis­quot­ed) more often than oth­er books. It is trans­lat­ed (and mis­trans­lat­ed) more than oth­ers as well. It is called a great work of lit­er­a­ture, the first work of his­to­ry. It is at the heart of Chris­tian­i­ty and Judaism. Min­is­ters, priests, and rab­bis preach it. Schol­ars spend their lives study­ing and teach­ing it in uni­ver­si­ties and sem­i­nar­ies. Peo­ple read it, study it, admire it, dis­dain it, write about it, argue about it, and love it. Peo­ple have lived by it and died for it. And we do not know who wrote it.1

Bart Ehrman makes an inter­est­ing obser­va­tion regard­ing the writ­ten text of the New Tes­ta­ment man­u­scripts and reached a con­clu­sion not dis­sim­i­lar to the Qur’an­ic charge.

The New Tes­ta­ment man­u­scripts were not pro­duced imper­son­al­ly by machines capa­ble of flaw­less repro­duc­tion. They were copied by hand, by liv­ing, breath­ing human beings who were deeply root­ed in the con­di­tions and con­tro­ver­sies of their day. Did the scribes’ polem­i­cal con­texts influ­ence the way they tran­scribed their sacred Scrip­tures ? The bur­den of the present study is that they did, that the­o­log­i­cal dis­putes, specif­i­cal­ly dis­putes over Chris­tol­ogy, prompt­ed Chris­t­ian scribes to alter the words of Scrip­ture in order to make them more ser­vice­able for the polem­i­cal task. Scribes mod­i­fied their man­u­scripts to make them more patent­ly ortho­dox’ and less sus­cep­ti­ble to abuse’ by the oppo­nents of ortho­doxy.2

We will be focus­ing on the New Tes­ta­ment and the inspi­ra­tion” behind its author­ship. The devel­op­ment of the can­on­iza­tion of the New Tes­ta­ment has been dis­cussed else­where.

Attribut­ing Author­ship to the New Tes­ta­ment Books

Let us start with The Gospel accord­ing to Matthew”. It has been assumed that the author of the Gospel of Matthew was Matthew him­self, one of the dis­ci­ples of Jesus(P). How­ev­er, inter­nal evi­dence proves oth­er­wise. Matthew did not write the Gospel attrib­uted to him :

…And as Jesus passed forth thence, he (Jesus) saw a man, named Matthew, sit­ting at the receipt of cus­tom : and he (Jesus) saith unto him (Matthew), fol­low me (Jesus) and he (Matthew) arose, and fol­lowed him (Jesus).“3

It does not need to take a Bib­li­cal schol­ar to fig­ure out that nei­ther Jesus(P) nor Matthew wrote this verse of Matthew”. This verse points to the fact that there is a third per­son besides Jesus and Matthew and that per­son wrote the Gospel Accord­ing to Matthew”. J. B. Philips, an Angli­can trans­la­tor of the Bible, in the begin­ning of the Gospel of Matthew, reluc­tant­ly acknowl­edges this fact :

Ear­ly tra­di­tion ascribed this Gospel to the apos­tle Matthew, but schol­ars nowa­days almost all reject this view. The author, whom we still can con­ve­nient­ly call Matthew, has plain­ly drawn on the mys­te­ri­ous Q”, which may have been a col­lec­tion of oral tra­di­tions. He has used Mark’s Gospel freely, though he has rearranged the order of events and has in sev­er­al instances used dif­fer­ent words for what is plain­ly the same sto­ry. The style is lucid, calm and tidy”. Matthew writes with a cer­tain judi­cious­ness as though he him­self had care­ful­ly digest­ed his mate­r­i­al and is con­vinced not only of its truth but of the divine pat­tern that lies behind the his­tor­i­cal facts.4

Anoth­er gospel worth men­tion­ing is the Gospel Accord­ing to John”. This gospel is so dif­fer­ent from the oth­er three Syn­op­tic Gospels that it is cat­e­go­rized dis­tinct­ly from the oth­er three. The Syn­op­tic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) stand togeth­er and are in sev­er­al respects dif­fer­ent from the Fourth Gospel (accord­ing to John). It is com­mon­ly attrib­uted to John son of Zebedee the Apos­tle of Christ, which makes it an eye­wit­ness account of Christ’s life and works but there were also dis­si­dent voices. 

K. Luke notes that :

Ire­naeus men­tions groups who reject­ed the Gospel of John. The Roman pres­byter Gaius, appeal­ing to the dif­fer­ences between Syn­op­tics and Johan­nine Gospel, con­clud­ed that the lat­er was the work of here­siarch Cen­rinthus. Anoth­er group that repu­di­at­ed the Gospel was the Alo­goi. The neg­a­tive posi­tion, it should be remem­bered nev­er won accep­tance in the ear­ly church, and any num­ber of tes­ti­monies can be cit­ed in sup­port of the apos­tolic ori­gin of the Gospel accord­ing to John.5

Such evi­dence can be found in many places through­out the New Tes­ta­ment. Although many peo­ple have hypoth­e­sized that it is pos­si­ble that an author some­times may write in the third per­son, still, in light of the rest of the evi­dence, there is sim­ply too much evi­dence against this hypothesis.

Some­times it is an indi­vid­u­al’s own silence which proves to be the most deaf­en­ing procla­ma­tion. For the peri­od of a cen­tu­ry and more the only Scrip­tures” used by the first Jew­ish fol­low­ers of Jesus were the Greek Sep­tu­agint trans­la­tions (com­mon­ly des­ig­nat­ed LXX) of the Hebrew Old Tes­ta­ment, the Law and the Prophets”, sup­ple­ment­ed by var­i­ous Jew­ish Apoc­rypha and the Sibylline Ora­cles (150 BC to AD 180); these were the only author­i­ties” appealed to by the ear­ly Church Fathers” when preach­ing their new faith. Nowhere do they quote the books which we know today as the New Testament.”

Nat­u­ral­ly, if the his­to­ry” of the Trini­tar­i­an Church regard­ing their cho­sen Gospels and what are claimed to be the inspired writ­ings of Jesus’ first Apos­tles were true, and these writ­ings had indeed been accept­ed as author­i­ta­tive at that time, then they would have been the most pre­cious and potent doc­u­ments of preach­ing for their doc­trine. Undoubt­ed­ly, they would have spo­ken of noth­ing else but would have quot­ed them and appealed to their author­i­ty at every turn as they have been doing through the cen­turies since. But, for some 150 years, lit­tle or noth­ing besides the Old Tes­ta­ment and these Ora­cles were known or quot­ed. As said by the great crit­ic, Solomon Reinach

With the excep­tion of Papias, who speaks of a nar­ra­tive by Mark, and a col­lec­tion of say­ings of Jesus, no Chris­t­ian writer of the first half of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry (i.e., up to 150 C.E.) quotes the Gospels or their reput­ed authors.6

In this day and age, some Chris­t­ian schol­ars are even mak­ing the case for the authen­tic­i­ty of the Gospel of Thomas as the fifth” Gospel. The Chris­tians of this age have claimed that these books are false and forg­eries. The Greek Church, the Catholic church and the Protes­tant Church are unan­i­mous on this point. Sim­i­lar­ly, the Greek Church claims that the third book of Ezra is a part of the Old Tes­ta­ment and believes it to have been writ­ten by the Prophet Ezra while the Protes­tant and Catholic Church­es have declared it false and fabricated.

Grolier’s Ency­clo­pe­dia says under the head­ing New Tes­ta­ment, Canon”:

The process by which the canon of the New Tes­ta­ment was formed began in the 2d cen­tu­ry, prob­a­bly with a col­lec­tion of ten let­ters of Paul. Toward the end of that cen­tu­ry, Ire­naeus argued for the unique author­i­ty of the por­tion of the Canon called the Gospels. Accep­tance of the oth­er books came grad­u­al­ly. The church in Egypt used more than the present 27 books, and the Syr­i­ac-speak­ing church­es few­er. The ques­tion of an offi­cial canon became urgent dur­ing the 4th cen­tu­ry. It was main­ly through the influ­ence of Athana­sius, bish­op of Alexan­dria, and because Jerome includ­ed the 27 books in his Latin ver­sion of the Bible called the Vul­gate, that the present canon came to be accept­ed…7

Notice how the writ­ings of Paul were the first to be accept­ed by the Trini­tar­i­an church. All oth­er gospels were then either accept­ed or destroyed based upon their con­for­mance to the teach­ings of Paul.

As have been already men­tioned, we have already seen how Paul of Tar­sus had all but total­ly oblit­er­at­ed the reli­gion of Jesus(P) based upon the author­i­ty of his alleged vision”. We then saw how his teach­ings were based more upon his per­son­al phi­los­o­phy and beliefs than any attempt to cite words or actions of Jesus him­self.8 We fur­ther saw how he was lat­er made the major­i­ty author” of the New Tes­ta­ment and count­less authen­tic gospels were burned and labelled apoc­ryphal” by his followers.


It is clear that where the author­ship of the New Tes­ta­ment is con­cerned, it is shroud­ed in the mys­tery of assump­tions by the attri­bu­tion of the works to authors which are imme­di­ate­ly dis­proved once the inter­nal evi­dence is stud­ied. If the authors of the New Tes­ta­ment can­not be whol­ly traced to the works which are attrib­uted to them, how could the New Tes­ta­ment stand to the scruti­ny of being the Word of God”? 

The ques­tion rais­es seri­ous doubts about the legit­i­ma­cy of inspi­ra­tion” behind the New Tes­ta­ment, as it is obvi­ous­ly the work of not just mul­ti­ple hands, but unknown mul­ti­ple hands.Endmark

Cite Icon Cite This As : 
  1. Richard E. Fried­man, Who Wrote the Bible, (Harp­er San Fran­cis­co, 1989), p. 15[]
  2. Bart Ehrman, The Ortho­dox Cor­rup­tion of Scrip­ture, p. 4[]
  3. Matthew 9:9[]
  4. J. B. Philips, The Gospels, (Geof­frey Bless, Lon­don), Intro­duc­tion[]
  5. K. Luke, Com­pan­ion to the Bible, Vol 2, (The­o­log­i­cal Pub­li­ca­tions in India, Ban­ga­lore, 1988), p .9[]
  6. Solomon Reinach, Orpheus a Gen­er­al His­to­ry of Reli­gions, p. 218[]
  7. Grolier’s Ency­clo­pe­dia, under New Tes­ta­ment, Canon”[]
  8. c.f. Gala­tians 2. Refer also to our sec­tion on Paul of Tar­sus for an analy­sis of Paul from the Mus­lim per­spec­tive.[]

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